From the Text Book to the Field

December 02, 2011

Raul Carril

Raul Carril listens to accounts from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. (Photo by Sarah Elbadri)

At Rollins, professors pride themselves on connecting textbook principles to real-world issues to create a balanced classroom experience. For Raul Carril (Class of 2015), who attended the Fair Food and Immigration Immersion Experience, this is best accomplished by listening to stories from the people who live with those issues every day. “Interacting with migrant workers, listening to their stories, eating traditional cuisine, walking into their homes and seeing the way they live provides a means of learning that cannot be replicated in a classroom,” said Carril.

Nine students spent three days in Immokalee, Florida to learn first-hand about the multifaceted issues surrounding migrant workers, workers’ rights, rural poverty and modern-day slavery. Rather than just discussing these issues, students listened to and emotionally connected with the stories of migrant workers and their families.

After driving hours to reach their destination, participants arrived at Immokalee Friendship House, a homeless shelter across the street from the farmworker’s center and where the group slept throughout the immersion experience. Rather than solely hearing about the disparities farmworkers live with each and every day, students took a walking tour of the rundown trailers with no heating or air-conditioning, where the underserved farmworkers live and pay $1000 a month in rent. Students stared at a former crew boss’s house where two men were forced to live in a trailer and serve the crew boss in a case of modern day slavery.

While witnessing these disparities, Carril learned about current issues and initiatives in place, like helping farmworkers gain an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked. “The weight translates into an extra $4,000-$6,000 per year. While many corporations have agreed to pay the cent increase (McDonalds, Yum Yum Foods, Sodexo and Whole Foods among others), two major food providers have not: Publix Supermarkets and Wal-Mart,” said Carril. “It was difficult to believe that these two corporations were not willing to spend lose change, when compared to the billions of dollars made annually, to give just a little more to those in need.”

Talking about 32-pound buckets is one thing, but participants were shocked when they realized how much effort it took to simply lift one bucket of tomatoes, which are as heavy as a toddler. Men and women fill a bucket every four minutes and run filled buckets to the truck for 10 hours straight for minimum wage.

These moments, as well as the conversations with the farmworkers, truly brought the experience to life for everyone. During lunch on the first full day of their trip, participants listened to personal histories. “The most impactful part of the immersion experience was the conversation with two migrant women, both named Margarita,” said Carril. “Speaking no English, these women shared the inspiring experience of how they and their families had transitioned and adjusted to life in the U.S.”

Contrary to his expectations, Carril was “surprised to learn [that] a substantial number of migrant workers have working visas and are here legally.”

Because of his immersion experience in Immokalee, Carril now feels “a personal responsibility to inform my friends, family and members of the community about fair food and immigration.” Collectively, the Immokalee Immersion group plans to bring more awareness to the local and global community on the topic of fair food and immigration, including initiatives with Join Us in Making Progress (JUMP) and 5-minute difference on the Rollins campus as well as bringing a traveling tour focusing on immigration to further increase awareness in the Central Florida community.

Carril can now connect the statistics he reads in textbooks to the very real faces of the people around him. “Working conditions and pay for migrant workers is certainly an issue that can be ameliorated. Walking through the produce section at the supermarket, I am now much more conscious of where and who the produce come from. Every dollar spent on produce is a vote toward supporting the just or unjust treatment toward migrant workers.”

The Rollins Immersion program exposes participants to critical, cultural, social, political and structural issues in the community through weekends of civic and community engagement throughout the academic year. Rooted in the academic mission of Rollins to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership, Rollins Immersion is intended to engage students, faculty and staff in communities in Florida and beyond through weekend and week-long experiences of education, reflection and action. Through direct community engagement, leadership development, multicultural education, discussions and pre/reflection activities, students become immersed in the big challenges and questions that face communities in the 21st century.

By Annamarie Carlson (Class of 2014)

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